The Quay Arts story.
Newport Quay was once a bustling, noisy place. Barges carried goods up and down the River Medina, which was lined by warehouses. Where the dual carriageway is today, there was a sliding railway bridge over the river that opened so the barges could unload their cargo on the quay or leave for the mainland on the tide.
The current Quay Arts building was originally known as the Porter Store. It was used as a bonded warehouse by Mew Langton’s Brewery where Island-brewed beers were stored on the ground floor, and spirits stored on the first. In 1884, the Rope Store was built by Robert Croucher.
In the 1960s, following the success of ferries to and from the mainland and the improved road network, the railways closed and Newport Quay went quiet. Mew Langton’s sold The Porter Store to Strong of Romsey, who sold it on to Whitbred in 1969.
In 1975, Anne Lewington stumbled upon the now abandoned warehouse and thought it would make a perfect venue for an arts centre for the island. A steering committee was formed in 1976 and they met for the first time in Calverts Hotel in Quay Street. Many island artists were involved as well as representatives from the Isle of Wight Council and the Island MP Steve Ross.
The name chosen to form a company limited by guarantee was the Isle of Wight Visual Arts Centre and membership was just £5 per year.
Anne Lewington met Christine West, a patron of the arts, who was keen to help raise funds for the Arts Centre. The first event was held at the West’s home, The Garland, in Bembridge. A second fundraiser, an art auction hosted by Mike and Christine West, raised £4,000. In 1976, the Isle of Wight Council bought the warehouse building from Whitbred and leased it back to the Isle of Wight Visual Arts Centre for a peppercorn rent of just £10 a year for 28 years.
Work began on the building to make it safe. The ground floor was cleared of rubbish and abandoned fruit machines, to make way for works of art by friends and members of Quay Arts, along with six workers from Manpower Services Commission. The first exhibition was The Left Bank Show, which was a one-day event where local artists were invited to turn up and sell their work.
In 1982, The Quay Arts Centre was officially named by Sir Hugh Casson and the Michael West Gallery was named in honour of Sir Michael West who had helped to raise funds for the Arts Centre. A bequest of paintings was also received from the Basil Green estate.
In 1987, Quay Arts appointed its first full-time paid director, general administrator and part-time exhibitions organiser. However, there were financial pressures and major problems with flooding resulting in the centre being run once more by volunteers. The Basil Green bequest was sold raising around £27,000.
In 1991, a funding agreement was reached enabling the appointment of Anne Toms as Director. Quay Arts was successful in obtaining a grant from the Arts Council England’s National Lottery Board for £1,100,500 to redevelop the Centre in 1996. Work soon started on expanding and upgrading the building led by award-winning architect, Tony Fretton.
In February 1997, Quay Arts was reopened with the new Michael West Gallery, Café Bar, Craft Shop and the new Rope Store Gallery. Anthony Minghella officially opened and gave his name to the theatre on 13 December 1997.
In 1999, the Leaning Curve Gallery was opened to act as an exhibition space for schools and community groups.
In July 2000, a programme of workshops started at Jubilee Stores. Courses in pottery, painting, printing, jewellery and textiles are now offered here in specialised workshops.In July 2010 the Michael West Gallery was renamed to the ‘West Gallery’ due to the discovery of Christine West’s major involvement with Quay Arts in the 1970’s during a Heritage Lottery-funded project titled ‘The West Collection – A Quay Vision’.
In July 2010 the Michael West Gallery was renamed to the ‘West Gallery’ due to the discovery of Christine West’s major involvement with Quay Arts in the 1970’s during a Heritage Lottery-funded project titled ‘The West Collection – A Quay Vision’.
In July 2016 the Learning Curve Gallery was renamed to the ‘Clayden Gallery’, to commemorate long-time supporter of Quay Arts and IW artist, Jenny Clayden.